Sunday, December 30, 2012

The God of Frustration



"For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways," declares YHWH.  As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than yours and my thoughts than your thoughts."
Isaiah 55:8 & 9

Zechariah said to the angel, "How can I be sure of this?  I am an old man and my wife is well along in years."  The angel answered, "I am Gabriel.  I stand in the presence of God...And now you will be unable to speak until the day this happens, because you did not believe my words, which will come true at their proper time."
Luke 1:18-20

"As soon as the sound of your greeting reached my ears, the baby in my womb leaped for joy.  Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished."
Luke 1:44 & 45

Meditating on the Christmas story a few days ago, I stumbled across that word known as "Belief."  You have Zechariah and Mary both asking similar questions to Gabriel.  Off the top of my head, they both seem like legit questions to me.  Zechariah, the father of John the Baptizer, is old and his wife is passed child barring age.  Mary is a virgin, teenage girl.  How could either of those folks be expected to have a baby?

Yet, poor Zech gets the mute treatment for 9 months.  Apparently, his question had an undertone of disbelief, while Mary's did not.  I don't know.  Maybe because Zech was older, and a priest at that, he should have known better.  I mean, it's not too often an angel pays you a visit.  I suppose Mary was to young to know any better and be cynical just yet.

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My walk with Jesus is at best a fitful journey.  I would imagine that I am a pain more often then not.

I also get the impression that it looks a lot like this cartoon.

I've been trying to write a book now since July.  It's almost half-way finished.  I can never tell if it's any good. (Why trust my biased opinion?) Others who have looked at it have all enjoyed it.  But they could be just humoring me.  I figure that it is either going to work, or go over like the Hindenburg.

Actual footage of my work being self-published on Amazon.

I honestly thought that I would be finished with it by now.  I had no idea how challenging this would be.  I want to be finished, finalized, DONE!

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So this morning I was up early.  A few days ago I started reading Donald Miller's "A Million Miles in a Thousand Years."  I recommend it highly.  It has challenged a lot of how I think about life.  In a nut shell, it is about him having to edit his life as he was working on the screenplay for "Blue Like Jazz."  He found himself meditating on Story...the story of his life.  Everyone's life is a story.  What are we telling with them?  It made me think that at the moment my story is very boring and unfulfilling.

I want to tell a different story with my life.

Yet at the same time, God has me where I am for a reason.  I can see glimpses of it often.  However, that does not mean that I like it or trust him.

This morning as I was reading Don's book, I came across Chp.29, "The Reason God Hasn't Fixed You Yet."

"I'm convinced the most fantastical moment in story, the point when all tension is finally relieved doesn't actually happen in real life.  And I mean that seriously.  I've thought about it fifty different ways, but I can't figure out how a human life actually climaxes so that everything on the other side of a particular moment is made okay.  It happens all the time in movies and books, but it won't happen to me -- and I'm sorry to say, it won't happen to you either.

Maybe the reason we like stories so much is because they deliver wish fulfillment.  Maybe we sit in the dark and shovel sugar into our mouths because in so many stories everything is made right, and we secretly long for that ourselves."

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"I have told you these things so that you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world."
John 16:33

Well, at least Jesus told the truth.

But that bugs me.  Why can't God get with the program?  I want to get this book done.  I want to move on with my life.  There is so much more that I want to do with my life than the place where I am currently at.  Come on, God!  Get a move on, would ya?  I keep telling you what I want.  Gimmie, gimmie, I need, I need!

If I went to one of those name it and claim it churches, they could give me the secret code to force God to do my bidding.  I could rub my bible and he would have to grant me three wishes...the first of which would naturally be an unlimited supply of wishes.

Honestly, what's with that guy?

Perhaps what bugs me the most about Jesus is that he might know a thing or two that I don't.

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My friend Mariah (Papaya) is pretty brilliant.  She is an actual writer.  She is also editing my chapters for me.  You can see her own stuff if you scroll down the right to Red. Write. Live.  She gives me a lot of homework.  It is like an afternoon of root canal.

Still, editing my writing is important.  What's more, as I do it I keep coming up with better and better ideas for these chapters.  I wish I was done, but my subconscious is glad I am not.

I have invited a variety of friends to help illustrate these chapters.  I am not looking for Rembrandt.  I am looking for clever.  If stick figures work to illustrate a point, I'm all for it.  This process has been very slow, too.  However, what has accidentally happened is that I have met more and more illustrators who may lend a hand. (It's all charity work at this point, because the best I can offer in return is some pizza.) Still, this has been interesting, too.  The more the merry as far as I am concerned.



If you are curious, the book is titled "Jesus in Minnesota."  It is essentially part Minnesota history and trivia, part theological discussion with the Messiah, and part road trip comedy.  Needless to say, it is a bit out of the ordinary.  Like I said, it's either going to work or...

All of this work is HARD work.  Along with that are the normal stressors and such of my dull existence, willfulness, stubbornness, and a fairly thankless job.  I always worry about the Sin of Presumption.  We presume that we know what God's will is all the time.  I worry about that in this instance.  However, it seems that every time I try to work on the book, Satan has a whole bunch of stuff that he throws my way to get me not to focus.  I get the feeling that this may indeed be God's will otherwise Satan would not be working overtime to distract me.

Again, maybe the Sin of Presumption.



I wish that God would get off his butt and fix all of my problems, solve my job situation and magically have me finish my book by the end of the day.  Currently, he has chosen not to do so.  Why must he frustrate me in this manner?  It's so simple.  He could snap his finger or wiggle his nose and it would all be resolved.  I would live happily ever after. (And live off of royalties.)

I do not understand this God.  He does not do my bidding.  I resent that.  I do not understand this God.  His concept of time is very different than mine.  That bugs me.  I do not understand this God.  He knows a couple of things that I do not.  I have a hard time trusting him as a result.

Gimmie, gimmie, I need, I need...I want, I want!

Then again, perhaps this is all for the best.



Peace

Joe


P.S.  More on Don Miller. (You should buy this book and read it today.)




Monday, December 17, 2012

A Guest Post on a Tragedy


I have a friend who lives in the Duluth area.  If you know Minnesota, the area north of Duluth is called the Iron Range, due to the iron ore industry.   The Canadians think there may be a huge cache of diamonds up there, too. (Probably left over from the Dwarves that used to live in the vicinity centuries ago.)

Anyway, the folks who live in this region are all a little nuts for the outdoors.  The economy is almost always difficult in that region, but most people stay there anyway because of the quality of life.

I mean, who needs a civilized grocery store when you can simply shoot and eat things from your kitchen window, or walk ten feet and drop a line in a river or lake?

This friend of mine is a clever fellow.  I was often jealous of him in college because he was and still is much brighter than I am. (Which probably isn't the most difficult task.) He's working on a Phd. in something when he isn't out eating Bambi and Thumper.  Suffice it to say, my friend likes his guns.  You need to be aware of that.

He posted the following on Facebook today in response to the tragedy in Newtown, CT. over the weekend.  I thought it was a good post and asked him if it was okay to use it as a guest post for my blog.  I doubt highly that everyone reading it will agree with all that he says, but that's fine.  This is written from the perspective of someone who loves to hunt, shoot and enjoy his guns.

My own thought is that it is high time for this country to have a mature, adult discussion about guns.  I have owned two since I was 14. (Don't have anywhere to use them now, but I still have them.) I believe in basic gun rights, but I look at them as more of a Responsibility than a Right, per say...once upon a time I think those were two sides of the same coin.

Like it or not, America is one of the most violent countries on the planet.  We can pretend otherwise, but that doesn't help.  I pray that America will repent of it's worship of lesser gods, but I'm not holding my breath.

At any rate, I now give you the views of my friend Doug, who looks simply splendid in a red tank top and red shorts while trout fishing.

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At the risk of offending nearly everyone in some manner, here goes.
i hunt. lots. i own many guns-big guns, small guns, and in-between size guns. this fall i hunted often, although not nearly often enough. my kids are being trained to use guns, and this winter my 13 yr old will go through firearms safety training. i would seriously be bummed about losing this aspect of my commune with nature.
so, unlike many gun fanatics, i actually use guns for a purpose. to kill stuff to eat.

in the clinton era assault weapons ban (which expired in '03) i hunted also. still had my guns, still was able to purchase ammo, all that. however, i have not been a member of the NRA since...the early 80's. no more...and today more than ever, i would like to tell my fellow hunters who cherish their traditions: there is no "slippery slope", that is a bs argument. restricting access to high capacity assault weapons will have no impact on your access to hunting guns, period. allowing the NRA to mandate federal gun policy will only allow more of these rampage killings.

F&CK the NRA!

there is no way, that ANYONE needs a commercially available high capacity assault rifle like the one used in the ct shooting for hunting- they are purely recreational tools that are completely impracticable for doing anything other than maiming a lot of people in a very short time. automatic pistols have outsold standard revolvers for decades--why?

what makes these guns the weapon of choice in mass slaughters is the capacity for 30+ round magazines- the Ct shooter apparently had enough magazines to kill every kid in the school-that might have been his plan. it's a simple matter of logistics- even the best competition shooters take over 10sec to reload a standard revolver. a 9mm handgun, with a exchangeable magazine, takes several seconds to remove the magazine, and load a new one- especially for a person who is not a professional and under duress. it's not as easy as Die Hard makes it look. a lunatic armed with a revolver would be easily overcome as he (it always a "he") would have to stop to reload. the 30 round clip of the Bushmaster .223 takes seconds to reload. (btw, there are dozens of military-style copies of the AR-15 made- for $1000 you can get yourself one to)

the national discussion has to take place on several levels.
first, we need acknowledge that evil always has, and always will exist. banning guns will not usher in the kingdom of god and get us all sitting around holding hands singing Kumbaya. evil is real.

second, we need to think about how we, as a society, are both creating and failing the mentally ill. progressively gutting our health care system and federal safety net over the last decades has left stranded many mentally ill people and their families with little hope of getting help. Further, apparently, some things have changed in the moral landscape in our society. Fact: when my dad went to school, things were so tough, he had to bring a rifle with him. and when he got to school, he and the other boys set their rifles carefully in the corner of the classroom. when they left for the day, they carried these rifles home, and used them to harvest whatever game they could in season-because it was the depression, and they had to help feed their family. THEY HAD GUNS IN SCHOOL! yet nobody got shot. Why? doing such a thing was unthinkable, atrocious, beyond comprehension. fistfights on the playground to settle disputes? yes, quite often apparently. using a gun to exact revenge on another person? never.
something dramatically has changed in how we value human life.

third, because of #1 & #2, we need to acknowledge that in the foreseeable future, angry young white men are going to continue to attempt mass homicide. this is a simple fact of our contemporary life in america. we didn't need to care in the past, because these types "merely" committed suicide. that die has been broken. many of us could ignore the plight of the mentally ill in the past, because they took their own lives. no longer. this is not an aberration..it is the new normal.

forth, because of #3, what is the "cost" of enduring mass homicide? the NRA has told us that my having access to a bushmaster is worth the lives of 20 innocent kids...and counting. is it? limiting access to the type of mass destruction weapons will not stop the rampage killings...but it will reduce the scope of the destruction.

last word: if you are a gun owner and hunter, this is the time to speak up. drop your NRA membership, drop your Gun Owners of America membership and work with stable minds to come to a sustainable policy on gun ownership.


____________________

Any thoughts?

Peace

Joe

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Fear and Loathing in Theology


For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send  his son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world though him.
John 3:16 & 17

Because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.  You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly...God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Rom. 5:5-8


I have a friend who has a theory about theology.  He believes that we base our theology on our fears.  People who tend to emphasize God's sovereignty secretly fear that God is not as powerful as they hope, and therefor life can be far to chaotic.  People who emphasize God's judgment and wrath secretly fear that God might not actually destroy the people that they hope he will. (Emphasis on Hope, there.) And so it goes.

I can't say for sure, but I think his theory holds some merit.

____________________

I have been feeling a profound absence of God for more than a few weeks now.  I just don't feel his presence.  Cognitively, I know he is there.  Subjectively, I do not.

Many years ago, when I was in a hurry to pop a bolt and was in the midst of my truly rebellious phase, I understood on an intellectual level the truth of Christianity.  I had weighed everything and knew that Jesus was who he said he was.  I no longer believed in Christians, but I still believed in the truth of Christ.  I couldn't escape it.  I certainly wasn't living like a Christian, nor did I care to.  I hated Christians.

I didn't hate Jesus.  I just wanted to avoid him.  There is a significant difference between knowing in your mind, and knowing in your gut.  While the intellectual comprehensive must have kept me safe in many ways, it certainly didn't satisfy me.

I find myself in similar circumstances these past few weeks.

____________________

I've been a big fan of Brennan Manning for a long time now.  He catches a lot of grief in certain circles.  I've never fully understood why.  I've talked to some Hyper-Reformed types, and for some reason he gives them fits of the spleen.  My only theory is that they find his emphasis on God's love to be threatening to their emphasis on the robotic god of wrath. (Which naturally, they assume they will be able to duck out of while those outside their theology will get the divine spanking.) I don't really now for sure.

A few days ago I came across this video of his.  I've heard him say things a long this line before, but this time it struck me differently.  I found myself IN the video.


Unfortunately, I find myself saying "No."  I do not believe that God really loves me.  I understand that he loves me in that intellectual sort of way.  There are more than enough Scripture verses that explain all of that.  However, I am not comprehending any of it on a gut level...at least not these past few weeks.  I can't say that I am pleased with this realization.  That having been said, I'm not really sure what I can do about it.

I am one of those guys who tends to emphasize God's love a lot.  This may indeed be the result of me not actually believing it.  It's obvious to everyone who knows me that I trash myself very easily.  It's a habit that I wear on my sleeve so that Satan can grab it and use it on me when ever he so desires.  Not only is there no reason for God to love me, there is more than enough really good reasons for him NOT to love me.  Trite answers along the lines of, "Well, just don't so that," are not particularly helpful.

I pray about this a lot.  I would appreciate it if you did to.

I really need to feel it in my bones.

Peace

Joe

Monday, December 3, 2012

The Incarnation of a Foot Washer




The Word was first, the Word present to God, God present to the Word.  The Word was God, in readiness for God from day one.  Everything was created through him; nothing-not one thing!-came into existence without him...The Word became flesh and moved into our neighborhood.
John 1:1-3 & 14 (Message Bible)


Emmanuel = "God with us."  OR, the literal word-for-word translation is "With us, God."

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing; taking the very nature of a servant being made in human likeness.
Phil. 2:5-7


Would you like to know how to get yourself punched if you ever visit the Middle East?  Call someone "Zift."  It means "Tar," like the stuff on the roadways.  It's quite the insult.  You can also show someone the bottom of your foot or shoe.  It's the equivalent of giving someone the Finger over there. (You may recall the Iraqis throwing shoes at the statue of Saddam Hussein or the fellow who whipped one at George Bush.)

Then you might ask why that word, or shoes for that matter, are such a big deal.  Well, consider that down through the centuries over there, what was on the roads that everyone walked on?  You were in your sandals most likely, your feet were getting sweaty and stinky, and you were probably stepping in camel and donkey poo to boot.  Not to mention everything else that can get between your toes and so on.  So, that part of the body and those associated with it were considered, and still are to this day, rather nasty and disgusting.

So flash backwards to John 13.

"Jesus knew that the Father had put him in complete charge of everything, that he came from God and was on his way back to God.  So he got up from the supper table, set aside his robe, and put on an apron.  The he poured water into a basin and began to wash the feet of the disciples, drying them with his apron.  When he got to Simon Peter, Peter said, "Master, you wash my feet?!?!"

That was the job of the lowest servant back in those days.

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Jesus claimed to be God.  Scripture describes him as the visible image of God, since our fleshy eyeballs cannot see God the Spirit.  Jesus never asked use to fully comprehend or understand how God could be 100% divine and 100% human at the same time.  He just asked us to trust him on this one. (And a few others.) It certainly confuses me, but then again, I have trouble balancing my checkbook every month.

So here is God in the flesh in the First century equivalent of his boxers and an apron down on his knees washing the nasty, stinky feet of the world's classic "B Team," (And that's being generous.) including one about to stab him in the back.  That's a bit much to comprehend, the Lord of creation at our feet.

Yet, we often treat him exactly like that.  We expect God to do our bidding, for our glory, because he said that he loves us.  We so often feel entitled.

I was reading in the Indeed devotional this morning, and it compares the Philippians 2 passages with this scene from John's Gospel.  Jesus left his glory and the glory of heaven to wash our feet.  He felt no need to cling and grasp all that was rightfully his, but instead essentially humiliated himself on our behalf.  If you really pause to think about that it becomes harder and harder to take in and understand.

I like it that Jesus, being a tad more clever than the rest of us, knew that comprehending such a thing would be a bit difficult.  Peter, who had a bigger mouth than me, got all worked up over Jesus washing his feet and insisted on the full package.  I can picture Jesus simply sighing and smiling back as he said, "You don't understand now what I am doing, but it will be clear enough to you later."

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Advent began yesterday, the Christmas season.  Actually, the unholy pagan version began the Friday after Thanksgiving. (In many cases, Thanksgiving night.) When we are not at the mall looking for bargains, or are hoping to catch so-and-so under the mistletoe, we might want to take a step back and consider what Im-anu-El, God becoming flesh, and the example he set and calls us to follow, entails.

It is difficult to comprehend and could use a good deal of meditation.  Perhaps for this Christmas I should just wash everyone's feet.



And now, one of my all time favorites.

Peace

Joe